Nature Experience in Pre-School Outdoor Play Areas

Camilla Rice, Lincoln, NE

Nature experience and environmental education are critical components of environmental competency and sustainable development. Evidence of the specific dimensions of nature experience contribution is lacking (Bolscho, D., Hauenschild, K). Environmental competency and sustainable development are critical issues affecting each person in some respect. Proficiency in environmental competency is the basis for leaders’, businesses’, communities’, and individuals’ abilities to contribute to decisions about sustainable development. Nature experience has become an important component of environmental education. The challenge for landscape architects is “How do we provide a nature experience component for environmental education with the highest educational prospect?”

Proficiency in environmental education is being addressed by higher education and K-12 educators with limited success. The outcome of sustainability learning is constrained by lack of contact with the natural systems which are the focus of the curriculum. Each year in the United State the population of children in urban areas increases by 5.7 million (UNdata). Many of these children are from minority and the poor populations. As more children grow up in environments without nature, opportunities for experience through direct, daily contact is decreased. Empirical research suggests that children deprived of nature experience are less motivated to act environmentally on a daily basis (Bolscho, D. Huasenschild, K., Walls, A.E.J.) They are less likely to understand the value of ecosystems and processes sustaining life. Environmentally literate societies are more likely to choose behaviors and practices protecting the environment (Scott, W., Gough, S.).

Research has found that, for adults, emotional affinity toward nature was a strong predictor of nature-protective behavior and that such affinity traced back to present and past experiences in natural environments (Kals, Schumacher, and Montada, Dutcher, Finley, Luloff, and Johnson). This paper will present the quantitative and qualitative research finding of my grant, “Is emotional affinity toward nature an outcome of Outdoor Learning Classrooms for Young Children?” although not yet complete, it suggests children who have opportunities for daily contact with nature and nature processes are developing connections with nature and preferences for outdoor play. This is a cross-disciplinary study utilizing the assistance of Dr. Julia Torquati in Early Childhood Education.

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